Eco-Industrial Parks: The Case for Private Planning

By Desrochers, Pierre | Independent Review, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

Eco-Industrial Parks: The Case for Private Planning


Desrochers, Pierre, Independent Review


An eco-industrial park (EIP) is a community of companies, located in a single region, that exchange and make use of each other's by-products or energy. Currently, EIPs are being promoted as a means of achieving sustainable development. Proponents argue that such a symbiotic community, of businesses produces more environmental benefits than each company could realize on its own. Numerous EIPs have been planned in North and South America, Southeast Asia, Europe, and southern Africa (Ayres 1996; Gertler 1995; Indigo Development 1998; Lowe 1997).(1)

Advocates of EIPs consider the Danish coastal city of Kalundborg a model. There, the main industries and the local government turn by-products into raw materials by trading and making use of their waste streams and energy resources. Although the Kalundborg community and other similar cases developed entirely through market forces,(2) many policy analysts argue that public planners can copy and even improve on Kalundborg. Thus, Paul Hawken (1993) speculates: "Imagine what a team of designers could come up with if they were to start from scratch, locating and specifying industries and factories that had potentially synergistic and symbiotic relationships' (63). Similarly, Sim Van Der Ryn and Stuart Cowan (1996) suggest that the potential of planned industrial ecosystems is even greater than that of the industrial ecosystem that evolved in Kalundborg. Ernest A. Lowe (1997) points out that "while industrial ecosystems must be largely self-organizing, there is a significant role for an organizing team in educating potential participants to the opportunities and in creating the conditions that support the development" (58).

Despite such endorsements, the movement toward public planning of EIPs is misconceived. It rests on a misreading of the Kalundborg experience, and it reflects insufficient knowledge of how market forces historically have promoted resource recovery. In this essay, I show that Kalundborg is simply a contemporary example of how industrial loops have always worked. I compare private and public mechanisms in the development of industrial loops, and I argue that greater reliance on market forces would be a more effective way of replicating the Danish experience.

The Rationale for Planning Eco-Industrial Parks

Although some people consider all waste a hazard to health and the environment that must be destroyed or prevented, many others consider waste an economic resource (Sinha 1993). Many who view waste as a resource label themselves "industrial ecologists," drawing on an analogy with the natural world, in which living organisms consume each other's wastes. The premise of industrial ecology is that modern industrial economies should mimic the cycling of materials in ecosystems throughout the processes of raw-material extraction,

manufacturing, product use, and waste disposal Industrial ecologists view industries as webs of producers, consumers, and scavengers, and they encourage symbiotic relationships between companies and industries. The ultimate goal of industrial ecology is to reuse, repair, recover, remanufacture, or recycle products and by-products on a very large scale (Allenby and Richards 1994, Ayres and Ayres 1996, Frosch and Gallopolous 1989, Garner and Keoleian 1995, Graedel and Allenby 1995).

Some industrial ecologists and public planners envision EIPs as networks of companies and other organizations that exchange and make use of by-products. By integrating principles of industrial ecology with principles of pollution prevention and sustainable design, such regionally localized firms should, in the view of industrial ecologists provide one or more of the following benefits, relative to traditional, nonlinked operations: reduction in the use of virgin materials; reduction in pollution; increase in energy efficiency; reduction in the volume of waste products requiring disposal; and increase in the amount and types of process outputs that have market value (Gertler 1995).

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